Why Did Ernest Hemingway Leave Hadley Out of The Sun Also Rises?

We both watched him. “I’ve told him there’s nothing between us, you know.”

“I’m not sure he hears it,” I said, trying to be as delicate as possible.

“Men hear what they like and invent the rest.”

Lady Duff Twysden and Hadley Richardson Hemingway, The Paris Wife

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Isn’t that true of all of us, both men and women, we hear what we want and invent the rest?

Why read a 314 page novel about Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, when Hemingway own roman à clef novel of their time together, The Sun Also Rises, leaves her out? Paula McLain’s 2011, The Paris Wife, gives us Hadley’s side of the story, but I’m left wondering why? McLean artistically recreates Hadley, and is a fine read, but for me at least, it brings up a lot of questions about using real people as characters in a novel. Hadley’s main claim to fame is for being Hemingway’s first wife, and second, for losing all his early manuscripts. To be honest, I read The Paris Wife, hoping to learn more about Hemingway, not Hadley, and I did, but The Paris Wife does make her a solid character now. Yet, is she a work of art, or historical footnote?


Hemingway and Fitzgerald, the two famous expats of The Lost Generation that lived in Paris in the 1920s, continue to draw readers into a moment of history that has become ever more glamorous.  This era even gave Woody Allen inspiration for Midnight in Paris. Professors, scholars and bookworms are drawn to this small group of writers because they defined their times like Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs defined The Beats, and Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne and Pissarro defined The Impressionists. These artistic movements generate addictive fascination in us. We especially love the Bloomsbury group, Lost Generation and Beats because of their free love drama and sexual complications.

Paula McLain’s novel was inspired by a 1991 biography Hadley by Gioia Diliberto, which was republished in 2011 as Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife to ride the coattails of McLain’s bestseller. Obviously, McLain found Hadley fascinating, and so did the reading public. Interest in Hemingway’s wives continues, because last year, Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood came out, that covers all four of Papa’s wives in 317 pages.

I found great sympathy for Hadley Richardson while reading The Paris Wife, and thought Hemingway was an asshole, not only to his wife, but to his friends and mentors. But I already knew that. I will admit that The Paris Wife brings things into a new focus, but I also have to ask why we want to know more about Hadley. We do want to know more, but why? Hadley was a decent woman. She was reasonably good looking. She played the piano. But adding everything up, she wasn’t very interesting. Definitely not like Zelda Fitzgerald. But if enough writers reincarnate her into new stories, will she become the new Zelda of The Lost Generation?

What I’d like to explore is why we spend time recreating Hadley Richardson long after she’s dead. Why are we trying to make her into a memorable character of literary history? If Paula McLain’s novel had been entirely fiction, would the love story in it been worthy of reading? McLain is confined by fact, so the scope of her plot, characters, emotion and drama are limited. Given free reign, would her fictional Hadley been so dull and mundane? Hadley was part of the gang of dynamic people that Hemingway wrote about in The Sun Also Rises, so why does he leave her out of the story? He portrays himself as man sexually crippled by the war?  Jake Barnes, the Hemingway character, can’t chase Lady Brett, so he’s the observer of her wild affairs, much like we assume Hemingway was in real life – or did he actually get lucky? Did Hemingway see Hadley as a kind of chastity belt holding him back, or was she just not as colorful as his friends, and thus unworthy of being a character in his novel? Or was it even petty resentment and revenge?

Whenever I read about a historical person fictionalized I’m always anxious to know what is fiction and what is nonfiction. I knew some of this story before reading The Paris Wife. I’ve read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s own memoirs of the time, and I’ve read The Sun Also Rises three times, which The Paris Wife describes Hemingway writing – the why and how. The Paris Wife also shows us Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald just after The Great Gatsby came out, during the tumultuous time that Fitzgerald was struggling to write Tender Is The Night.

McLain has picked a juicy period and place to cover, but then so did these famous novelists. How many views of these events and people do we need? I’m still willing to read more. But I believe we need to ask why. Is this a feminist take on literary history? If so, why hasn’t Jean Rhys become famous? She wrote her own novels, lived the wild life, was part of love triangles, and was connected to Ford Maddox Ford, another character in The Paris Wife.

The Paris Wife covers Paris when many influential novels were written and their authors led lives that would generate countless biographies. Is Hadley’s unique perspective all that valuable? Hadley has now appeared in at least two novels, a memoir and many biographies, but she’s left out of the roman à clef novel by her famous husband. Isn’t that telling. In McClain’s novel, Hadley struggles to understand why too.

Of course new writers will continue to find peripheral individuals who were connected to The Lost Generation to give another perspective on this cozy history. There’s no reason not to write about Hadley. In recent years, books by and about all the women who hooked up with Jack Kerouac are coming out. Yet, the end result seems to paint more details about the male writers, and not to make their women more significant.

The more I read about Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jack Kerouac, the more I realize I would not have liked them as people. I feel sorry for their women, and their friends. They were all self-centered drunks who were obsessed with making themselves famous by writing up their own lives. Hemingway used Hadley and when he found a more useful woman, cast her aside. Yet, what makes Hadley famous now is Hemingway. What drew Hadley to him? Hadley was 29 when she snagged the 21 year old Ernest. Hemingway was broken by the war, struggling to start a career, screwed up by an overbearing mother and haunted by a father who killed himself. Hadley had her own psychological demons. She also had an overbearing mother and a father who committed suicide. Hemingway was obviously looking for a nurturing mother replacement, a lover, and a cheerleader, and Hadley fit the bill nicely.


Hemingway was an alpha male that woman chased after. He was exciting and beautiful to both women and men, so it’s clear why Hadley wanted him. But like many alpha males, he was a serial womanizer, so Hadley never had much of a chance. And from a literary history perspective, we have to ask, what value is she to the story? Even with Paula McLain’s loving portrait, Hadley’s image is impressionistic at best. We never see her in realistic detail.

Even when we read nonfiction how close are we getting to the truth? And when is fiction more insightful than nonfiction? In McLain’s novel she uses people’s real names. In Hemingway’s novel, the man who actually witness the events, recasts his friends as characters with new names. They aren’t meant to be photographic portraits. We don’t see Hadley in The Sun Also Rises even though she was there with Hemingway, hanging out with the same people. Jake Barnes, Hemingway’s alter-ego, fictionally castrated, yearns for Lady Brett Ashley. Isn’t that psychological revealing way to portray himself in the novel? Years later, Hemingway does remember his wife in his memoir A Movable Feast, but isn’t it mostly guilt? He wants to apologize, but do we believe him?


In the end we’re fascinated by Hemingway and Hadley. But which is more important, the art, or the biography? Strangely enough, The Sun Also Rises is how most people see the Lost Generation, and it’s a lie, a fabrication, fiction. Hemingway distills time and memory like our dreams process our daily experiences. By fictionalizing Hadley, McLain is making her memorable in the same way Hemingway made his friends memorable. We remember Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, Robert Cohn and Mike Campbell,  and not Lady Duff Twysden, Harold Loeb and Pat Guthrie. Which are more real, the fictional characters, or the people they were based on?

Literary biography can be a black hole sucking in facts searching for truth. If you get too close to the story, it can trap you inside the event horizon. For me, at some point, I get too close to these characters and start to dislike them. No matter how much I admire Hemingway’s skill with words, the more I know about him, the less I admire him as a person. The Paris Wife makes Hemingway into a real stinker – and here’s the real problem I have with the novel, I never see why Hadley loves him.

We learn why Hadley is attracted to Hemingway, why she needs him, why she admires him, why she wants to take care of him, but I never understood why she loves him. I think that’s true because we never understand why Hemingway loves Hadley. Love might not be something that can be conveyed in fiction or fact. We can describe romance and sex, but can we translate love into words? We can explain attraction, but can we put the ineffable into art? Even if we had high definition video of all the events in the book, could we ever know how people felt? Hadley says over and over again she loves Ernest, but that tells us nothing. We know she does because she puts up with so much. But I don’t think we ever feel what she feels.

Whether in fiction or nonfiction, we’re not recreating reality but art. We will never know Hadley and Hemingway. Novels like The Paris Wife have to stand alone as art. Bringing in facts from the past only confuses the issues even though we assume more facts bring more clarity. Hemingway, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Kerouac knew that, and that’s why they don’t stick to the facts.

The Paris Wife did make me wonder why Hemingway wasn’t more genuine in his novel and included himself and Hadley as man and wife. For such a macho guy, I think he was being a pussy. He obviously didn’t want to write honestly about his attraction to Duff (Lady Brett), or deal with Hadley’s hurt. Hemingway would get in with the bulls, but was too chicken to throw himself in the romantic ring where everyone was goring each other. I’ve got to give Kerouac credit for portraying his own faults in his novels. It will be hard now to read The Sun Also Rises without thinking about The Paris Wife. As works of art they will always have to stand alone, but as literary gossip, they are forever married.

If Hemingway had really loved Hadley, and understood her deeply, knowing her soul with that love, don’t you think she would have been characterized in The Sun Also Rises? Like the quote I open with, “Men hear what they like and invent the rest,” Hemingway remembers what he wants remembered, and invents the rest.


All of this is covered in the new biography of the novel, Everyone Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises by Lesley M. M. Blume.

16 thoughts on “Why Did Ernest Hemingway Leave Hadley Out of The Sun Also Rises?”

  1. My guess would be that Hadley wasn’t included in The Sun Also Rises (which I read eons ago) because the story was about Brett Ashely (Lady Twysden), Harold Loeb (Robert Cohn) and Mike Campbell (Pat Guthrie) – plus the bullfighter, of course.

    According to one source, Hadley was in the original short story which was expanded and changed for the novel version.

    I figure Hemingway wanted to keep the focus on the subtleties of the relationships between the triangle – quadrangle. And it’s not first person so there’s no reason fro Hadley to be there – although she was with the group in Paris. Also, Hemingway was supposedly pissed off at Loeb and wanted to make him look bad.

    I’m with you, I wonder about the real lives of fictionalized historical personalities. I’ve read very few I really put much faith in. I wonder if it’s fair to the person -deceased or not – I think sometimes it is and too often it isn’t.

    1. That’s for that article about the textual history of The Sun Also Rises. I think Lady Brett Ashley is one of the centers of the novel. Hemingway also wanted to focus on bullfighting. But he also wanted to show the Paris crowd. I never felt the novel was precise in its structure, or its intent. That’s why it didn’t make a particularly good movie. Even before I read the novel, I felt something was strange with Jake and his war wounds. I didn’t know about Hadley. The first couple times I read The Sun Also Rises. decades ago, I assume Jake was Hemingway, and he was writing a novel about wanting a woman he never got, and his jealousy of the men she did accept. I thought it weird he used a war wound as the reason they couldn’t consummate their relationship. It seemed like a gimmick. Now that I see he had a wife and child that he felt held him back and down, sheds new light on Jake’s jealousy and longing.

  2. Hadley is in the Sun Also Rises – she is his war wound – the thing that stops him from being able to properly and adequately pursue Brett. The knowledge that he needed this device to mirror the real complication, Hadley, kept Hemingway, whether consciously or not, from being able to find a place for her in the full length novel.
    That’s my feeling anyway.
    So’s the rest, & where I disagree with you, it doesn’t mean I think I’m right and you’re wrong necessarily, it just conflicts with my sketchy conclusions.
    I don’t really think he used Hadley then cast her aside exactly, he was very guilty about it and was very devoted to her for at least some of the relationship – he doesn’t seem to have targeted his second wife, it seems she went after him, but we don’t really know. He writes about her later with a tinge of regret too? I certainly don’t think she represented a mother figure simply because she was older. When people or societies don’t marry young or marry less frequently then more older people are single and there are/were more age gap relationships as a result. I think to see the age gap as looking for a father or mother is a kind of modern view. By all accounts Hadley was very shy to begin with and if anything saw him as the rescuer figure. As you’ve said she was thought of as very attractive and was pretty and accomplished, who knows how interesting she was? Paris Without End is a good biography but it isn’t able to capture whether she was thought dull, there isn’t enough source, though don’t people do say they invited ‘the Hemingways’ places hoping to talk to her rather than him? It’s a little unfair to say the biog rode the coat tails of the novel – I thought the polar opposite when I saw the novel – rather cheap attempt to cash in on a well researched biography by using it to write a novel that many of us would have great interest in.
    I don’t think Hemingway can be dismissed as a drunk either, in the Paris years. Later in his life he was in a lot of physical pain, and I think his drinking might well have ratcheted up as a result – to put him in the same bag as Scott Fitzgerald while in Paris seems unfair. In the time of prohibition, travel to Europe was common for those who could and heavy drinking was widespread in Paris. It was also a hub of artistic communities, not just in writing. People hung out in bars and cafes in their down time, and whilst Hemingway certainly drank then, and got drunk sometimes, he writes with contempt about tourists coming over and getting crazily drunk and about some of Fitzgerald’s drunken behaviour.
    It’s more likely perhaps that it was after Paris when he was in constant pain after his head injuries just before leaving, and his plane crashes and a few other things that his intake grew – perhaps also even through his guilt over Hadley and more – but, even then, famously he always got up early to write, often while standing, and sober, in the morning. He was clearly drinking an amount that he could handle.
    And that was well after Paris where Fitzgerald, it seems, was going on marathon sessions. And I think the idea of Hemingway as a titanic drunk in the early Paris years is revisionist.
    He was an immensely sensitive man, I think, and that side has been lost in biographies which have decided what kind of person he was before they begin their research and therefore find it when it isn’t really there. Alpha Male? More likely someone deeply afraid they might be a coward, and found out for it.
    I think you might well have liked him in the Paris years, at least.
    I agree, it is very interesting to compare the real characters and the fiction in the book. There’s lots about the book I don’t like actually, though I like some of his later novels. It’s his short stories at that time that, for me, are more interesting and better written.
    I hope none of that offended. It comes over hostile to disagree with a blog, where it might seem natural and enjoyable over a coffee or something. It’s a subject I’m interested in but never really get a chance to talk about, hence my throwing in my pitch.

    1. I don’t feel its hostile for someone to disagree with me. Everyone has different reactions to novels, and it’s very difficult to read enough biographies to know what reality was like. I like you idea that Hadley is in The Sun Also Rises as Jake’s war wound. That has a certain symmetry to it.

      1. I found The Paris Wife an interesting read – years ago. Recently the book club I’m in elected to discuss it. So to refresh myself I grabbed the audio version. The narrator, a woman, provides in her reading the tone that only a woman can share when it comes to the intimacy of a relationship….interesting narration.

  3. Very interesting article ! when I read the Paris wife I thought” , why Hemingway loved such a plain and dull woman?” Im doing researches for university about ” Hemingway in Paris in the Roaring Twenties” ( I’m a tour guide in Paris) and I discovered many interesting facts about the anglophones writers in Paris in the 1920’s.Thanks again about your smart article about à “roman à clef” 🙂

  4. My personal opinion is that Hemingway left Hadley out of the novel because of his respect for her. He was royally roasting everyone else. He didn’t want to sully the mother of his first child with the same indignity with which he treated the other characters. He didn’t want to wound or embarrass her. Although he was falling “in love” with others, I believe he did have some kind of genuine love and respect for Hadley… even after he “outgrew” her. I am very surprised that no one else shares this opinion.

    1. I agree with you Kimberly that Hemingway loved and respected Hadley – to a point. He wasn’t always kind to her. We have to face the fact that Hemingway was a major asshole, self-centered, and used people. I still believe he left Hadley out of the story because he didn’t value her enough to put her in it. He could have used her a model of virtue and self-sacrifice to counter Lady Ashley. He could have been more honest and targeted himself for his own weaknesses like he was judging others. He gives Jake a pass while roasting everyone else. The novel would have been even more insightful if he had lampooned his own faults too.

  5. i think Hemingway left Hadley beceuse she became fat and she was older than him ..Pauline was more élégant ans stylish and richer than Hadley .

    1. Hadley had the baby, and I assume Hemingway also felt tied down to Hadley. He was gaining success and wanted to lead the exciting life of a famous author. It was probably like John Lennon and Cynthia Lennon.

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